Mr. Porter to Mr. Hay.

No. 558.]

Sir: Referring to Mr. Vignaud’s letter of June 28, in reply to your note of June 14, concerning the remains of Paul Jones, I am now in position to inform you that the place where he was buried has been found and that I have also procured a copy of the official report of the burial, which took place under orders from the French National Assembly. The original report was destroyed at the burning of the city hall of Paris in 1871, but, fortunately, a well-known archaeologist and writer who died some time ago, Charles Read, made a copy of the document, which has just been found among his papers.

[Page 277]

The burial place of Paul Jones was at the time a Protestant cemetery, upon which buildings are now erected, but a French archæologist, M. de Recaudy, who, at the request of this embassy, took the matter in hand and made this interesting discovery, believes that he could locate within 8 or 10 yards the spot where the body was interred, and he is confident that a careful excavation of the place would result in the discovery of the remains of the hero. I inclose herewith a copy of a report which M. de Recaudy has addressed to me on the subject, which is of great interest. M. de Recaudy suggests to me that a committee be formed of persons interested in the matter, who would provide for the funds to purchase the property and make the proper excavations with the view of having the remains transferred to the United States, should they be found. The coffin, in all probability, was of wood, and unless there was a metallic plate bearing the name of the deceased, or a sword or some article not perishable, it might be difficult to identify whatever may be left of the body. I submit these suggestions to your appreciation, and can only say that I will cheerfully cooperate in any action having in view the removal to the United States of the remains of Paul Jones. I also inclose a photograph showing the main buildings now standing on the site of the Protestant cemetery mentioned in the “report.” The structure to the right bearing the sign “Encadrements” is supposed to stand on the spot where Paul Jones was buried.

I have, etc.,

Horace Porter.

M. de Recaudy to Mr. Porter.

report in reference to the site of the burial of the remains of commodore john paul jones, and as to the means of finding them.

Paul Jones died in Paris on the 18th of July, 1792, and was buried on July 20 of the same year, as is established by the burial register, of which the following is a transcription:

“On this the 20th day of July, 1792, year IV of Liberty (year I of Egalite), at 8 o’clock in the evening and in conformity with the decree af the National Assembly of the day previous, in presence of the deputation of the said Assembly, composed of Messieurs Brun, president of the deputation of the aforesaid Assembly, Bravet, Cambon, Rouyer, Brival, Deydier, Gay-Vernon, bishop of the Department of the Haute-Vienne, Chabot, episcopal vicar of the Department of the Loir-et-Cher, Carlier, Petit, Le Josnes Robouaume; and a deputation of the Consistory of the Protestants of Paris, composed of Messrs. Maron, Pasteur, Perreaux, Bénard, Mouquin, and Empaytaz, anciens, John Paul Jones, native of England and a citizen of the United States, first sea officer (premier officier de mer) in the service of the said United States, aged 45 years, and died on the 18th of this month at his residence situated at No. 42 rue des Tournon, in consequence of dropsy of the chest(hydropisie de poitrine), in the sentiments of the Protestant religion. The said burial took place in the presence of us, Pierre Francois, Simonneau, commissioner of the King in these precincts and commissioner of police of the section of Ponceau; in the presence of Messieurs Samuel Blackden, colonel of dragoons in the service of the State of North Carolina; of S. James, Col. Montflorence, formerly major in the service of the United States; of Marie-Jean Baptiste Benoist Beaupoil, former French officer living in Paris at No. 7 Passage des Petits-Peres, and Louis Nicholas Villeminot, officer commanding the grenadiers of the gendarmerie, which escorted the deputation of the Assembly, and of others who signed with us; Brun, Gay-Vernon, bishop and deputy; Deydier, deputy of the Ain; Rouyer, Francois Cholot, Bénard, J. C. Mountflorence, Petit, Cambon fils ainé, Bravet, Beaupoil, P. H. Carlier, Durvosque, Lafontaine, Simonneau, [Page 278] Jacques Brivial, Villeminot, Robouame deputy, Marron, Perreaux, Mouquin, Empaytaz, R. Ghiselin de Maryland; S. Blackden; Griffith, of Philadelphia.”

This document was copied in 1859 by M. Charles Read from a register contained in the archives of the city of Paris, in the building in the Avenue Victoria, which served as a supplementary archives for the Hotel de Ville. This register bore the serial number 89 and formed part of a series relating to the official status (état civil) of Protestants, and was, for the subject of deaths, composed of five registers. This register, numbered 89, commenced in 1779, related to a cemetery, owned by the Protestants, situated near the Porte St. Martin, between the tree-planted avenue (Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle) and the rue Basse de la Voirie (a street no longer existing). It occupied an area of 256 toises (32 extending along the tree-planted avenue and 8 extending along the road of the Porte St. Martin to the right of the present rue du Faubourg St. Martin). But this cemetery was closed in 1762 by order of the lieutenant of police, under the pretext of completing the extension of the boulevard. It had been opened in 1724 at the instance of Mr. Hop, the Dutch ambassador, who complained to the King of the difficulties connected with the burial of foreign Protestants. When this cemetery was closed another one was opened behind the St. Louis Hospital on a site which is occupied now exactly by the buildings numbered 41, 43, 45, and 47 in the rue Grange-aux-Belles, and number 1 in the rue des Ecluses Saint Martin. The premises were purchased from the religious order of the Lazarists, which owned a vast property in these parts. It is composed of a courtyard and a garden. The entrance was not in the rue de l’Hôpital Saint Louis, now rue Grange-aux-Belles, as might be supposed from the documents, where it is sometimes indicated as behind the St. Louis Hospital, sometimes on the site of the St. Louis Hospital, sometimes in the rue de l’Hôpital Saint Louis, and sometimes, by error, behind the Saint Louis Church, but in the rue des Morts, formerly rue Saint Maur, and to-day rue des Ecluses Saint Martin. No Paris historian explains this naming of the rue des Morts, which was apparently due to a pun which is not unusual in cases like that of the street in question, which was known later by its original name of the rue Saint Maur. The creation of this cemetery was evidently the cause.

One enters at first in a courtyard which contained the house of the concierge and various unimportant buildings. Then one descends several steps. One reaches the garden, which extends mostly on a lower level than that of the rue Grange-aux-Belles. Until the year 1777 burials were made exclusively in the garden. At that date it was decided that the Protestants of the Kingdom (French), until then deprived of a decent place for burial (they were buried in fields or gardens), should be henceforth buried in the courtyard, and to avoid any possible confusion between French and foreign Protestants reference should be made for the designation of allotments to the decision of the embassy of Holland. But it had also been decided that a separate register should be kept for each category of dead. It is known that this order was disregarded. It is likely that the other instructions also remained a dead letter. At the time of the Commodore’s death the garden must have been long since filled up so as no longer to be a “decent place of burial,” as had been desired. Quite recently the owner of the washing establishment (laundry) situated at No. 45 rue Grange-aux-Belles (garden site), wishing to increase the depth of the pit where his boiler was placed, excavated at a depth of 2 meters 50 centimeters a viscous black substance containing fragments of human bones. This unnatural earth constitutes what is technically called “corpse loam” (“le gras de cadaver”). This is the special condition of over-saturated cemeteries. On the courtyard side, on the contrary, the earth that was excavated to make a trench for some water pipes was found to be less impure, and bones, shin bones, and shoulder blades were discovered in a fairly good state of preservation.

A tenant who wished to bury a dog found almost at the soil level two skulls. Hence it appears that long before 1792 they had been compelled to bury both categories of the dead in the courtyard, and Paul Jones being one of the latest interments it is probable that his remains are not far from the entrance door, the place most likely to have been used for the latest burials. But this is merely a hypothesis.

Was the Commodore ever disinterred? Two authors state that his remains are in the Pere Lachaise. But in this cemetery the only Joneses are Jones (Edward Thomas), died in 1833; Jones (John Quereau), died in 1822; Jones (Charles), died in 1829; Jones (James), died in 1827. A fifth Jones, who died in 1820, is described as George Jones on the tombstone, and as Jones on the register of the administration. Moreover, Charles Jones had taken, in 1820, a perpetual concession for a widow lady named Mathews, who died in 1826; and in a tomb of the Colton-Graves family is found Olivia Augusta Jones. This is the only Jones in the tombs containing several bodies. Consequently the Commodore can not be in Pere Lachaise Cemetery. [Page 279] Moreover, the cemetery of the Rue-aux-Belles was officially closed on January 1, 1793, less than six months after the death of Paul Jones; and on the 3d day of Thermidor, Year IV, it was sold as national property and was deeded to Monsieur Phalipeaux. Some time afterwards a night-soil remover named Sage established himself on the premises, and in order to facilitate the entrance of his carts he raised the level of the garden to the level of the courtyard. Later the estate was divided into two lots as they exist to-day. The first lot (41 and 43 Rue Grange-aux-Belles) covers the area of the garden. It measures 38 meters by 40. The second lot (45 and 47 of the same street, and 1 Rue des Ecluses St. Martin) occupies the area of the former courtyard, and measures 26 meters by 40. The total area of the premises (2,560 meters square) still belongs to the Sage family, but the buildings numbered 41 and 43 are the property of M. Bassigny. Number 41 is composed of two stories; number 43 is composed of a large paved courtyard in which is a shed and a storage for grains and hay, under which is an excavation large enough to hold the boiler that formerly stood there, and of a small garden and dwelling of light construction. Number 45 contains a laundry, the floor of which is cement, and comprises drains for conducting water into the street. This laundry is built without foundations. As to excavations, there is the place for the boiler already mentioned, and a cellar that has the appearance of being very old. At number 47 is found on the side of the Rue Grange-aux-Belles a house of three stories, and adjoining the Rue des Ecluses St. Martin is a cheap construction with no upper stories and in a dilapidated condition. The remainder of the area is represented by a courtyard and several unimportant buildings.

It results from this sale and the almost immediate occupancy of the site, that the naval hero of the war of American independence has never been exhumed. Since the Protestant Cemetery was closed in 1804 there does not exist in Paris any other cemetery whither his remains could have been decently transferred. It has been seen that his remains are not in Pere Lachaise. Neither are they in other cemeteries since created, consequently they must be in the site adjoining the Rue-aux-Belles. Is there a reasonable chance of recovering his bones? If he was buried in a wooden coffin there may be only found some unrecognizable fragments; if the body was encased in a leaden coffin there is no doubt but what his remains can be identified. But was this done? Mr. Gouverneur Morris, the United States minister in Paris at the time of the decease of Paul Jones, mentions in his diary that the funeral was a very modest one. May not the word “modest” refer to the material supplied for the burial, for it is known by the official register that a brilliant assemblage attended the funeral.

In any event, even if his bones can not be identified, it is nevertheless absolutely certain that he is there, and that the acquisition of the site of the former cemetery could be made under advantageous circumstances. A square might be made bearing the the name Commodore Paul Jones, upon which a monument might be appropriately erected to his memory and without prejudice to any excavations that might be hereafter deemed advisable.

All the above information is based upon documents consulted in various archives, or taken from plans. No statement has been made that is not supported by documentary proof that in each case can be produced if needed.